Among the many things we learned from our podcast interview with White Sox general manager Rick Hahn, he mentioned that Maikel Cleto had a new changeup. Since Cleto had been mostly known for bringing his four-seam fastball to the mound, it was an interesting development.
|Count||Frequency||Velocity||pfx HMov (in.)||pfx VMov (in.)||H. Rel (ft.)||V. Rel (ft.)|
|Through May 8th||33||10.75%||93.23||-8.65||4.33||-2.23||6.12|
|After August 5th||25||9.77%||86.18||-5.42||5.16||-2.39||6.42|
Cleto's changeup at the start of the season looked a lot like a sinker. It broke over eight inches arm side with some decent vertical break. The problem is that, with a 98 mph four-seamer, a 93 mph non-breaker looks like a slower fastball from Cleto. That lack of separation in velocity doesn't just mean a lack of deception. It means that hitters that can just look fastball and if they can't catch up with his four-seamer, they probably can get his changeup.
The new changeup is a lot different. It's a lot straighter than his old changeup, but it's coming in at 86 mph. It's still a bit faster than the average changeup, but the 12-mph difference from Cleto's fastball puts hitters way in front of the pitch rather than just catching up with it. It was working so well by the end of the season that it had replaced his slider as his number two pitch. Over his last four appearances, he struck out 10 in 4⅓ innings. On Sept. 17, he threw 11 sliders, but only two more the rest of the season. He threw 18 changeups over those four games.
There was also a change on where Cleto threw his fastball late in the season.
There was no toying around or nimbling corners. Cleto's fastball was either up and in on a right hander or right down the middle. No need to mess around with a 98 mph fastball. Just a very nice "Don't think meat. Just throw." kind of philosophy. If you know the hitter will have problems catching up with the fastball, why not throw it for what you know will be a strike? If they can hit it, give them one face high and inside and drop changeups and sliders down and away like crazy afterwards
While the Sox bullpen had its problems all season, Zach Putnam and Jake Petricka did OK all season and probably will be useful pieces of the bullpen next season. By the end of the 2014, Cleto, Eric Surkamp, and Chris Bassitt showed that they could be useful pieces as well. While these guys aren't going to be the next Matt Thorntons, they could be the next Cliff Polite or Neal Cotts-- solid pieces for a better bullpen next season.
That's the magic of Don Cooper. Even while the Sox stumbled through the end of the season, Cooper continued working with the Sox bullpen, developing the pitchers they had into something better. I talked about Cleto and his changeup. I could talk about Surkamp's sinker which he threw more often and picked up an extra inch of movement in both dimensions in September and made him a ground ball machine. With a couple good high-leverage pitchers added to the bullpen, the Sox really could have a bullpen that wins games next season, and a good part of that will be because of what Cooper did this season.